The self destruct button: when everything is in its place and things are going just the way they should, when life is horrendously monotonous, the mind shuts down. Disengage. Re-engagement only takes a press of that button and the unleashing of chaos.

I don’t know if everyone has that button. When it’s pressed life becomes a race across a collapsing bridge, every time a step finds something to push off the rush is indescribable. Partly because running forward when you should be falling, denying the odds and racing along the razor’s edge, is the ultimate rush. Partly because you know, sooner or later, a step will find nothing, and it all comes crashing down into the ruins of chaos, and that anticipation of oblivion is in itself is a rush. Everything becomes instinctual, fuelled by adrenaline and cortisol, the mask rips off and, for better or for worse, reality. Rush upon rush, life and reality, but at the expense of an unsustainable sprint down the face of a wave of chaos.

A question on deities

As a precocious and pretentious teenager, to prove a point about atheism, I once stood in the middle of a crossroads, in a thunderstorm, and called on God to smite me down and prove his existence. While God didn’t strike me down, I have come, over the years, to doubt my belief in atheism. Could it be there really is a divine being, somewhat akin to Bill Hicks’s prankster God, who, rather than than tricking us into believing in evolution by planting dinosaur bones with St Peter, is cutting about making my life a series of unfortunate coincidences and defeats snatched from the jaws of victory?

I almost respect his comedic vindictiveness.

The philosophical sound of silence

In so much as sound is the mechanical wave produced by an oscillation of pressure, on the infinitesimal scale, there is no silence; at least in the experiential sense.

Consider the theoretical vacuum, an absolute vacuum of complete emptiness. Silence exists here, but the moment we are introduced silence only exists where we are not; where we are introduced, we bring our inherent non-silence, the intrinsic oscillations of the functions of the living body. The absolute vacuum has no content, it has no media to transmit the sound wave caused by the oscillations of life; any sound dies on the boundary of nothingness. Our body, even when contained within the vacuum, remains something, a medium, or at least a collection of media, to transmit the oscillations; our skeletal structure transmits the waves by means of bone conduction.

It may be the amplitude of these bone-conducted waves is damped such that they do not disturb the auditory system sufficiently to generate a neural action potential; nevertheless there will be an infinitesimal disruption to any equilibrium of the system, there will be, on some level, a mechanical impact upon our being. Alternatively it may be that the frequency of the wave is such that the brain choses not to perceive it as a sound; but even at this level the mental differentiation requires cognitive processing, albeit non-conscious, to determine how the wave should be perceived. Analogous with visible and non-visible light, the brain differentiates between audible and non-audible oscillations through the mental construct of hearing. Evolution, or God, or intelligent design set the brain such that low-level oscillations are not perceived as sounds, but these settings are arbitrary and the absence of conscious perception does not constitute silence. The act of not hearing a sound does not negate its existence. The silence we think we experience is a charade, a manifestation of reality foisted upon us by the brain.

Life is intrinsically non-silent and the act of living precludes the experience of silence.

Dancing with the reptiles of fear

This is a story about reptiles. Actually it’s a story about reptiles and dancing, or rather dancing with reptiles. Yes, dancing with reptiles.

David Icke is right; there are reptiles everywhere. Reptiles of fear standing ten feet tall with a tail half as long again; insidious, invisible reptiles riding a black Cerberus across our shoulders while they whisper a siren song into our ear; thousands of reptiles looking just like us as they pass by on the street, sneering with conservative disgust; friendly reptiles celebrating mediocrity and handing another bottle of self destruct. There are reptiles everywhere, with endless different guises, all with an identical desire to keep a boot on the throat of life. If you don’t stand too tall, if you stay in your box, no rage against the dying of light, no kicking against the pricks they’ll let you be. Anything else, dare to dare, and they will smite you down with scaly green anger and a terrible, tail wielding fury.

But who wants to stay in a box? That way lays existential bad faith, chained by conformity to Plato’s cave.

You can rise up and fight, but it would be foolhardy to face them in all out assault. You might well win the fight, but there are so many of them you’ll have to pour everything into it just to survive; and then you’re not even going to have the energy to stand in victory, foot atop your pile of reptile carcasses with bicep flexed. No, there’s more to the game than the defeat of reptiles. It’s about succeeding in whatever they’re trying to stop you doing, avoiding the boot and breathing life. Escape and evade, subterfuge and subtlety, think of Odysseus not Heracles. Lull them, trick them, misdirect them; this is the dance. Pirouette away or hold them close and waltz them out of your present. Like a reptilian manifestation of McGoohan’s ball, they will always be there but they don’t always have to be here!

It’s the Kobayashi Maru; you win by cheating the game to suit your reality. Enjoy the ensemble piece; playing their game by your rules. Embrace the solo, this is your time to shine and break out of the cave screaming your incandescent insights. You don’t win by fighting until they concede, you win by pointing them in one direction while you run off in the other and do whatever the hell you want. You run the race, you write the book, you carve your reality into this life.

Don’t let the slimy bastards grind you down.

She stopped time

A friend has laid down a challenge to a few of us, we’re to enter the Scottish Book Trust’s monthly 50 word competition until one of us wins it. March’s prompt was a watch; here’s my first attempt, not sure it works but things can only improve:

He tilted his watch towards the smattering of light escaping the streetlamp; forty minutes late. She’d demanded to meet, then left him freezing in the night. He cursed her, and flagged a taxi.

“You’ll be quicker walking, traffic’s no’ moving. Bus’s hit some lassie just up the road.”

Hasta Siempre, Comandante

So Chavez is dead.

I was in Venezuela during the run up to the 2005 elections and I found it nearly impossible to get a balanced opinion of the man. In my experience the poor and some of the indigenous peoples (only some, the others were so remote they couldn’t give a fuck who was in charge) worshipped him. The middle and upper classes appeared to hate him and  they were exceptionally suspicious of his relationship with Cuba. I’ll never forget one embittered and unemployed Venezuelan teacher telling me he couldn’t get a job because he wasn’t Cuban.

If I found it difficult to get a clear picture of an apparently divisive man in his home country, then it was even more so to form an opinion through the international media who painted him as a modern day, Bolivarian messiah flicking the finger to the imperialist yankees.

Maybe I’m just a champagne socialist; or maybe I’m a silly, naive romantic; or it might just be the contrarian in me mourning the passing of a fellow contrarian but I’m sad to see the maverick go.

Not that it matters what I think.

I never had to live under his government or experience the hardships of so many in Venezuela.

For what it is worth, I hope a beautiful country and the amazing people who live there get the leadership and government they deserve, and I truly hope his passing doesn’t lead to destabilisation and pain.

The beginnings of a noir thriller…

The cold steel of the railings condensed the fog and turned the black paint graphite. The sodium lamps blurred as they fought a losing battle of enlightenment against the dark soul of night. Damp gnawed at Harris’s bones and a wind whipped his unkempt hair across his face. He leaned with his hands on the bridge, his head was bowed as he looked at, but didn’t see, the river below, oblivious to the machinations of man, as it cut a swathe through the city lights. Stepping back and turning to face the road so he could see both ends of the bridge; Harris pushed the hair out of his eyes, drew the cigarettes from the inside pocket of his jacket, lit one and watched the smoke couple with the fog.

He checked his watch. Again. Then, in an attempt to calm himself, took another deep drag on the cigarette. She was late and he didn’t know what it meant. In truth he didn’t know her at all, not beyond an insistent voice on the other end of the telephone.

If he stopped to question too long Harris knew the doubts would become fear and he would be dancing to someone else’s tune once more. The same fateful soundtrack that had been playing since before he knew this, whatever this was, had began.

The day it began, or at least the day he became aware of it, was no different from any other. The radio dragged him out of sleep and he lay in bed longer than he should, making promises to himself: up after the news, after the next sports bulletin, after the traffic report. Until he begrudgingly accepted he was late and everything then became a barely controlled but finely honed routine.  Out of bed; shower; get dressed; eat breakfast; style hair; clean teeth; check wallet, keys, pass for the office; and then a final look in the mirror to make sure the tie was straight and the hair perfectly imperfect.

It was as he spun away from the mirror after the final inspection that he kicked the suitcase and stumbled. It was an old style case, a rectangle with a looped handle on its long edge. No wheels, navy blue canvas with faux leather bands and a gold, plastic logo: Marco Polo. Harris couldn’t remember where it had came from, it had moved from house to house with him so often it was a wrench to actually get rid of it but it had become so out of sync with the rest of his life it was now incongruous. So he had filled it with old clothes and had intended to take it to the nearest charity shop at the weekend. Now he cursed himself for only doing half the job, and used his foot to push it hard against the wall. It was only when he did so that he registered the case was heavier than one would expect for a contents of some sweat stained shirts and a shiny suit. Then he noticed the smear of red, vivid against the pale laminate flooring.

Harris cursed again, realising he had thrown the black bag of clothes in the communal waste bins and placed the rubbish bag, complete with the remains of a beetroot salad, into the case. Another curse, he was going to be late, he knew if he didn’t take the rubbish out now he would come home to the fetid stench of decay. Flipping the case on its back Harris undid the buckle and unzipped the top, throwing it open with no small amount of irritation.

That was the moment he became aware of it beginning.

There was no black bag. No rubbish. No beetroot. Only two legs, each cut in two just above the knee; two arms; a torso with a head nestled just below the breasts, and blood. A lot of blood. Blood which now stained his shirt and hands.

Harris stared at the head; it had been at least six months since he’d seen Kath. Six months since their not so amicable split when she kicked him out of her house, forcing him to take refuge in an upmarket, west end apartment. They’d never spoken again, only exchanging a few terse emails to sort out the car insurance and shared money. Now here she was, staring at him with lifeless, glassy eyes out of a bloody suitcase in his living room. Disbelieving he sat back on the floor, reached out and tentatively touched her face with an index finger. It was cold, it was clammy and it was real. He barely even had time to consider how she’d ended up there, when, simultaneously, the door buzzer and his mobile phone cut through the shock.

Automatically he jumped up to answer the door, fumbling with his phone as he did. The phone showed withheld number and the grainy intercom video screen unmistakably displayed two police officers. Harris never took his eyes off the police on the screen as he answered the phone, they buzzed again.

There was no introduction or preamble, her tone was urgent and her accent clipped but she resonated calm and control:

“If you don’t want to die in a prison accident you need to leave now.”

“Wh-who is this?”, Harris stuttered back.

“Stop fucking about Harris. Leave the flat, go down the fire escape and over the back wall”, she instructed. “They don’t know for certain that you’re in here so they’ve only sent two, the rest are heading to intercept you at your work. Leave your phone; your credit cards; keep moving; and don’t meet anyone you know. I’ll meet you on the bridge in the city, three am, two nights from now.”

Then the phone went dead, Harris stared at it as he tried to comprehend what was happening but another impatient buzz on the door sent him down the fire escape and over the wall.

The walls close in

Attacks against the senses. Damp seeps into my bones and shadows snatch from the cold. Buildings loom, endlessly leaning out from darkness. Infinite seas of angry faces buffet me as I struggle through the flow. Relentless hammer blows of noise beat down upon me. My eyes flash, watching everything, seeing nothing. Desperation takes hold. My thoughts become swallows darting in the race for sanity. Hope escapes once more. Life assaults the soul.

Let me go.

Watching you watching me

Grey skies, grey streets, grey faces all darkened by the relentless smur of rain – a grey day for grey times.

The first one was standing at the top of the steps down to the station beneath the street.

He was new.

Chunky trainers, baggy jeans, oversized vest, hooded top with open zip, gold chain, diamond stud, mobile phone to his ear. But he stood too straight, the phone call was only one way, he watched people like a raptor following its prey, too often his eyes passed over the second one.

He wasn’t new.

Suit, shirt, shoes were different enough from the usual work wear. I had to look twice – just another businessman heading back from lunch. I’d long since stopped being surprised at finding them wherever I went, I’d even stopped being surprised at how easy they were to spot, so I confess to a pleasant feeling upon discovering I’d almost missed him. They were getter better, learning, raising their expertise to close the gap between hunter and quarry.

I continued my walk past the subway entrance, and the suit-wearing builder, just far enough to draw Tupac off his stand. A pirouette, a skip, a smile, down to the station: protocol took them both out of the game. Easy.

Rain and grime had turned the cream tiles charcoal, an oil slick in the concourse forcing me to slow. No queue for a ticket machine, paid cash, moved on, no hood necessary, CCTV already had me. Shop in the ticket hall, the kind I was after: phone cards, cases, handsets, unlocking and SIM cards. All unregistered. Untraceable. Rules kept us both in play, but blind obedience to rules constrained them, whilst freedom to bend set me free.

It wasn’t the time to bend.

I needed untraceable phones but it wouldn’t matter how untraceable they were if they knew I had them. Now was the time to follow the plan.

Through the barrier, down the escalator, left for northbound trains, fate lends a hand, walk straight onto a train, doors close, no familiar faces, respite. A deep breath.

They knew I was on the train. The CCTV would monitor where I got off but the cameras on the train didn’t broadcast, they only record. No way to live monitor every face at every station, they wouldn’t know where I got off until after the fact. Away from the main arterials omnipotent eyes don’t look into the side street shadows.


Only for a short time, but still refuge.

Beyond the out of date A to Z I hadn’t recced the area. No way for them to guess where I was headed. No way for me to be certain I’d find what I was looking for. Know your terrain: a rule I could break, a gamble. The calculated risk success demanded.

Hood up, head down, off the train, right, left, left again, up the escalator, through the barrier, ignore the charity bucket, grey light, steel rain, fight against sea of people crashing off the bus.

Then slower, there was no need to rush: no need to stand out from the commuting crowd. I turned left once more, moving away from the station and into the dusk racing towards darkness. I was careful to walk with purpose, playing the part of a man knowing exactly where he was going just for the cameras. I crossed the road at the junction before heading straight up the hill towards a sanctuary of fleeting anonymity. I couldn’t help but feel a rush of amusement at imagining their confusion when a sudden right took me out of sight and into a dark warren, a nameless estate taut with deprivation, despair, disgust. No one watched here. Out of sight, out of mind.

I continued away from the eyes, deeper into the abyss, a backlit yellow sign, an off license. Phone cards? Phones? Yes. Two. Not as many as I needed. Not enough to raise suspicion.

Ahead again.